Tainan Is A City Off The Beaten-Path, Yet Still Large And Exciting Past Review

By (Linguistics, Bennington College) - abroad from 06/21/2018 to 08/18/2018 with

American Councils (ACTR): Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program (TISLP)

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Definitely worthwhile! I learned a lot of self-reliance and bravery, living in a place where I can't read the signs (as I don't study traditional characters) and my accent is difficult to understand.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The teachers were absolutely amazing (all locals, and all very experienced, and kind to us), and the class sizes were super small. It was interesting to live in the less-traveled southern city of Tainan, which is still quite large - larger than I had expected, with a population of 1 million - and thus had plenty of entertainment for our two month stay. On the other hand, it didn't have great public transportation, and locals found our American-accented-Mandarin more difficult to understand than did folks in Taipei. People were also prone to take pictures of us, as almost none of us were of Asian descent, and thus oddities there. However, they were extremely friendly and tolerant of our slip-ups in a way Taipei folks weren't, precisely because it was so unusual for them to meet white, black, Latinx people, especially those that can speak Mandarin. There was also a slight issue with some aspects of the administration, in that everyone running the program was Taiwanese - and so couldn't really understand how jarring this new place was to us. They'd tell us to look up information we needed online, but in this smaller, non-touristy city, a lot of stuff actually wasn't online, or if it was there was rarely an English, or even Simplified Chinese, version of the website (most of us studied simplified rather than traditional characters, although another bonus of the program was that we were allowed to study either one).

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

As I've said, while most problems were handled by the program very well - for instance, we didn't need a visa, we were picked up from the airport, housing was provided, we were given assistance in booking train tickets back to Taipei at the end of the program - there were some smaller issues that administrators didn't understand we couldn't so easily solve abroad as we could in our home countries, especially those to do with the internet - such as calling cabs, or finding banks that would allow us to pick up money wired in.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Tap water in Taiwan is not potable, so I was very pleased to find every floor had a water machine with both cold and hot water for drinking. I was accidentally placed in a building with Taiwanese roommates, rather than the building everyone else was placed in, so I was perfectly satisfied with what I got but cannot speak for the average accommodation. (I didn't hear many complaints, though.) The dorms were quiet, and every floor seemed to have a study space behind closed doors in case you truly needed privacy. I lived with three other people, which I believe is standard. We slept on something of a hybrid between Western and traditional beds, in that there were were almost shelves built into the walls, like bunk beds, on which we put our little sleeping mats (provided for free by the program, along with blankets). Others felt it was uncomfortable, but I often sleep on the floor, so I personally didn't mind. There was no wifi in the dorms - nor in most places in Tainan - but we were told to bring ethernet cables and then given access to free internet as long as we were plugged into the building's service. The dorm had quite a lot of floors, but there were two elevators. We were about a ten minute walk away from campus. I shared a bathroom with a sink, a toilet, and a shower (all divided from each other) with my three roommates, but it sounded like the girls in the other dorms shared toilets with their whole floors. There were also two very wide desks built into the walls , which were each shared between 2 people, and an effective air-conditioning unit, which was great because Taiwan is super super hot! We also had to swipe our ID cards to get into the building, in case security is a concern of yours. There was no curfew. I also found that all of Taiwan is very clean, and the campus and dorms were no exception - cleaning women swept up and took out the trash once a week. Be warned you must be very careful in separating your trash - Taiwan is very environmentally-conscious! We had separate bins for trash, recycling, and compost, and each is dumped into a separate truck and process separately. It didn't take long to learn the process though. There is no kitchen to make your own food - not even a microwave, so keep that in mind - although each room did have a mini-fridge.

* Food:

Food was NOT provided by the program, so food was my own responsibility. That being said, with our campus and dorms being in close proximity, this was a neighborhood with plenty of cheap and quick food. There's Taiwanese fare, some foreign stuff - mainly Mexican, Japanese, Vietnamese, and some Indian - as well as international chains like 7/11, McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks right nearby. Keep in mind you can find way more stuff at 7/11 in Asia than you can in America - it serves as something like the market we didn't have nearby. So, all this quick-service stuff was within a very manageable asking distance, but there weren't really any true markets around to buy things to make your own meals - although there were a few fresh fruit stands that were cheap and quite nice.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I found Taiwanese people in general and people from the south especially to be very very nice. To be honest, I don't think this is something that can really be chalked up to the program, but I felt perfectly comfortable there. People, even just random service workers or people on the street, were very understanding of our problems as foreigners - although we definitely stood out (people would take pictures of us without asking), and sometimes even if we began interactions in Mandarin people would respond in English. I think a lot is made of how different Asian culture is from America's, or Europe's, but I found Taiwanese people to be polite and forthright, not at all difficult to understand or rude, nor negative toward us. Taiwanese culture seemed to me very legible to an American.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

If we had health problems - which I did not - we talked with a program director to figure out next steps. Folks who did get sick seemed to have no issues with either the program or the Taiwanese health system. Even if you're not a local - which obviously none of us were - Taiwanese health services are incredibly cheap; what's more, none of us paid any extra for health care, so if we DID have it (I'm not sure) it was already taken care of by the program and not something to worry about, and if we DIDN'T, well, it didn't seem to make much of a difference anyway.

* Safety:

Nothing bad happened to me! There are a lot of semi-stray dogs wandering around, and some are friendly, while some will try to bite you if you try to get too close, so, you know, watch out for that. People do not abide as strictly to traffic laws as they do in America, either - no one in my program was hit, but everyone who's lived there for longer periods of time have their own stories of run-ins. People generally use those mopeds or motorcycles, two-wheeled stuff like that (as an aside, bikes were easy to rent and buy for cheap, great for a city with little public transportation), and would park and even ride them on the sidewalk - so always keep both eyes way open. In terms of actual, deliberate crime though, Taiwan seemed a very safe place to me.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Taiwan is a super cheap place! We were provided everything we needed, aside from food, so I didn't find much I needed to spend on. All those extras - clothes, knickknacks, food - totally affordable. I spent maybe... 80 NTW on breakfast per day, around $2.50, then maybe $150 each ($5) for lunch and dinner. Granted, this was nothing fancy, but a budget like that can find you filling and healthy options, although maybe not in the type of place where you sit down and have waiters and whatnot - those restaurants were a bit pricier.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $70


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

We actually weren't allowed to use English! Our teachers and program directors were all Taiwanese, and we had 4 classes per weekday, each an hour long. All were conducted in Mandarin, using both traditional and simplified characters.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? I had taken two semesters of Chinese language
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The teachers
  • The locals
  • The rigorousness of the courses
* What could be improved?
  • Program directors' understanding of our confusion
  • Our grades and transcripts were given to us very late
  • We were only given access to internet about a week into the program
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? There's no kitchen, not even a microwave, in the student dorms where we lived. There's also very little public transportation, so if you want to get anywhere you either have to walk or buy/rent a bike (which is still not very expensive). Unless you're fluent with traditional characters, the internet will not be very useful to you there - and even if you're looking at English-language sites, wifi is spotty across the whole country. Taiwan takes trash very seriously, yet there are no trash bins anywhere, so if you finish your drink you're gonna have to carry the bottle with you till you get back home! There also aren't a lot of water fountains, and you can't drink tap water, so bring very large reusable water bottles everywhere you go. Also, a lot of words are different in Taiwan than they are in China! The Chinese we study in American universities is normally tailored to Beijing, so know Taiwanese don't really use that -er ending (儿 - you don't say 一点儿,you say 一点点) and the names of a lot of foods (especially fruits) are different - so look those up!

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!